Clergy group's endorsement drawing fire

Black ministers back only 1, and snub 2 incumbents, in 13th District House race

`It's clearly a slap in the face'

They note votes for bill

council hopeful supported

Howard County

August 07, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A group of 11 African-American ministers yesterday endorsed two candidates in Howard County's primary election - and created an instant controversy in the process.

The group, called the Howard County Black Clergy, gathered at Columbia's First Baptist Church of Guilford to urge community members to vote for east Columbia Democrat David Rakes in the 2nd District County Council race and only for Democrat Pearl Atkinson-Stewart's nomination to the state House of Delegates in the 13th District instead of for the permitted three choices - a practice known as "single-shooting."

The theory behind single-shooting is that if a block of voters concentrates its support on one candidate, it could boost that person over the others.

The ministers, led by the Rev. Robert A. Turner and the Rev. John L. Wright of First Baptist of Guilford, said they will urge thousands of parishioners to work, volunteer and vote for Atkinson-Stewart and Rakes.

They did not urge voters to support the 13th District's two incumbent delegates - Frank S. Turner and Shane E. Pendergrass - among the five Democrats vying for the three nominations available in the district.

Del. Frank Turner, who like Atkinson-Stewart is African-American, was not pleased by the snub from the clergy group.

"I think it's very unfortunate that they did that. I think I've done a very good job over my eight years. I represent the entire community," he said.

The delegate added that he thinks Wright "wanted to get Pearl elected at my expense."

Wright denied that allegation, but said of the delegate: "If he's looking for a good fight, he can get it, too."

The Rev. Robert Turner said, "Frank is still a friend. Friends can disagree."

Speaking of the group's failure to endorse her, Pendergrass, who is white, said she won her House seat without the ministers' support in 1998 and hopes to do so again.

Neil F. Quinter, another Democrat running for the House in the district, said the coalition never interviewed him.

"It's clearly a slap in the face of some of the other candidates in the race. I think it's a shame for people to have votes and not use them," said Quinter, who is white.

The Rev. Robert Turner said all candidates were considered for endorsement, not just African-Americans. He added that the group was unhappy with incumbents Turner and Pendergrass because they voted for House Bill 1150 during the last General Assembly session and later said they made a mistake because they had not read it.

The bill, which was passed by the House but killed in the Senate, would have added "socially and economically disadvantaged" white men to the minority contractors' set-aside law, which many blacks say has not helped enough black-owned companies.

"The definition of a minority [including women and other ethnic groups] is so broad" that black business owners have received very little benefit from it, the Rev. Robert Turner said.

"This is a key issue. You should be reading these things [bills]," said Sherman Howell, another activist in the group.

Turner and Pendergrass said they voted in favor of the bill because they thought it was routine and no one warned them of its effect. At an African American Coalition-sponsored candidates forum July 27, both incumbents said that they could not personally read every one of the 3,000 bills introduced each year.

In the County Council primary races, the ministers' group decided to limit its support to the 2nd District because that is where the county's black population is most concentrated, the clergy group's Turner said.

Rakes, who has been endorsed by county teachers and police groups, said he was pleased with the ministers' support. "It has to rate very high," he said of the group's endorsement.

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